The Julius Peppers to New England rumor mill began churning at an alarming rate back in 2009.
Not surprisingly, the water from the mainstream media set the rumor mill churning once again this offseason. NFL.com Senior Writer Pat Kirwan provided news that the Patriots are the front-runners to land the sack specialist, an assertion supported by another NFL.com writer Vic Carucci.
With just three days remaining until the start of the free agent signing period, no one has emerged as a sure-fire favorite.
I have heralded Peppers as the prime pass rusher of a paltry 2010 free agent group based on his physical talents, and his incredible athletic ability. But I didn’t consider—or even know—his history as a half-hearted player, until it was reported at length last week by the Boston Globe .
I listed him as a top five consideration for New England just a week ago. The operative word: consideration.
Now, considering the negative things that have been said about him, I don’t know that they’ll even give him a second thought. The Patriots can’t afford to lock up the pretty penny that Peppers would push for, especially on a player with so many red flags.
Oh, you hadn’t heard? Peppers has never played 3-4 outside linebacker before.
Some would reference Belichick’s success with transitioning defensive ends to outside linebackers in the past, and would point to Willie McGinest’s success in his 3-4 scheme as an example.
But the question is no longer simply “can he?” Certainly he can, as everyone interviewed by the Globe spoke with admiration of his athletic ability. Instead, insight has us inquiring: will he want to? Does Peppers lack passion?
It’s one thing to adapt to a new defensive system; it’s another thing completely to adopt a hard-working mentality.
This isn’t a case a la Randy Moss, where sour grapes were flung at the future Hall-of-Famer to stain his reputation. Moss was coming off a down year, and took a big pay-cut to become a Patriot and compete for a championship. That doesn’t appear to be the scenario with Peppers, who will command big money regardless of whose pocket it comes from.
But similarly, Moss’ passion for football was called into question continually during the 2007 offseason before he set a record for receiving touchdowns. Since then, it’s been on-again off-again from game to game, much like has been predicted with Peppers, where Moss shows us why he’s great after disappearing almost completely for a game or two.
Except that a former talent evaluator believes that, “if you pay [Peppers], I don’t think you’ll see a double-digit sack [season] again the rest of his career.”
A former member of Panthers personnel spoke of Peppers with disdain and disgust. “On the field, he’s a freak athletically, but it’s whether he shows up or not. He’ll go two and three games and do nothing but take up space. Then he’ll have two sacks, a forced fumble, a pick, and change the game. And that’s the danger. He can mesmerize you, but it’s not consistent.”
Inconsistency is hardly a characteristic New England wants to have associated with someone who will become the face of the franchise by default due to the large sum of money he’s paid.
But that’s not all. The Globe also spoke with former Panthers defensive tackle Brenston Buckner, who played next to Peppers from 2002-2007.
“I don’t think he’s a great football player, but he’s a superhuman athlete,” Buckner said. “Defensive linemen are taught to maintain the double-team. That’s for guys like me. Guys like him should beat the double-team. That’s what Lawrence Taylor did, that’s what Reggie White and Bruce Smith did. That’s the kind of player he should be.”
With all the new facts coming forward about Peppers’ passionless, passive attitude toward football, what’s to say he won’t get to New England and just “shut it down?”
What happens if the Patriots spend a ton of money on Peppers, and he turns out to be a complete slouch at outside linebacker? He’d become one expensive bench-warmer.
The Patriots have a Get Out Of Jail Free Card for Adalius Thomas’ waste of a contract; the uncapped season in 2010 means that a cap penalty for cutting Thomas won’t be of any relevance or significance.
The days are drawing near, but the decision’s still unclear. Let’s hope the Patriots have learned from their lesson with Thomas and use extreme caution in bringing the All-Pro defensive end on board.